Thoughts on equity, energy and metals markets

At this point there is some distortion between energy and metals which have a direct relationship as energy must be expended to mine the metals. usually the ratio is 10x the price of a barrel of oil for an ounce of gold, but now it’s been in a range of 12.5x-15x.

Either oil is very undervalued (which is unlikely) or gold is overbought at these levels.

Today’s close of the stock markets and oil seems to indicative of a risk repricing that began last week.

960 (around the 50 day moving average) on the S&P 500 and $65 a barrel on light sweet crude are my downside targets short term, but if either breaks we could trade to much lower support levels.

In addition, when examining the huge sell off in natural gas prices, it’s near certain that energy has more negative catalysts than positive because industrial utilization continues to lag despite the green shoots propaganda that we keep hearing.

Finally, there are a growing number of bears calling for a shake out of March’s lows coming this fall because of a new leg down in commercial real estate that will bleed liquidity out of the equity markets and REITs.

Potential risk reversal in global markets

It looks like safe haven assets like bonds, yen and dollars are becoming more attractive vs. risky assets like commodity currencies, commodities, equities and emerging markets in general.

I think we may be entering the next leg down as Mohamed El-Erian and others have expressed the same sentiment I have. The rally is running on fumes.

We probably will retest the lows in the market and bring some fear back in to the trading. VIX is up 6%+ today and we’re seeing a lot more put buying as institutions either bet against or insure profits in stocks.

Consumer sentiment was terrible and there is now some question as to whether the FDIC is solvent after taking over Colonial Bank. All the Maes are probably completely toxic now, too. I hope foreign central banks continue their generosity or the falloff here could become a disaster.

S&P 500 head and shoulders pattern confirmed

A repeat performance of the bear market rally breakdown seems to be in the works now.  The first downside target is 875, then I believe we could see a large sell off to around 775-800 if that level breaks.  After that a retest of the lows is almost certain.  The image below illustrates the pattern on a three month / one day bar chart.  There may be some support at the 200 day moving average around current levels as the market is oversold.  A bounce before continuing downward is not out of the question.

S&P 500 head and shoulders pattern

Look out below! Market setting up to fall.

With the last legs of this rally really more of a sideways trade on very light volume, we’re starting to see some signs that a rolling over process has begun.  While there is plenty of reasons to be a bear, the most compelling reason to be a bull was the notion that things were getting worse at a slower pace.  The idea was that we overcorrected to the downside in March, facing what appeared to be a depression, and having (at least temporarily) taken that off the table, we see very attractive valuations.

We’ve had a nice run already

After about 40% off the bottom, I think we can say the valuations have gotten ahead of themselves.  In addition, there are no signs of an earnings-led recovery or any real green shoots that indicate we’ll be seeing a pronounced rebound in the economy.  Most of the optimism is coming from China, which seems to be hoarding commodities for its own hedging game against the falling US dollar.  While hunger for raw materials is good for the markets, if it is not a genuine appetite that stems from growth, but rather a desire to build a materials portfolio for the Chinese government, then much of the optimism in energy, materials and other related sectors is overdone.

The biggest driver is not behind the wheel

The consumer is facing more foreclosures, credit card defaults and an increasingly tight employment picture.  This is not the atmosphere that is condusive towards a consumer-led recovery.  Consumers probably have 5-10 years before they can start to lever up again on their credit.  Other emerging markets are attempting to build consumer economies, and facing tremendous headwinds from populations who treasure thrift rather than spending.  The appetite for material possessions is not nearly as strong nor are earnings per capita elsewhere enough to sustain the vacuum left behind by the American and European economic implosion.

Greenflation not back, yet

Green energy is a promising sector when crude oil is above $100.  Right now the motivation is just not as strong with consumers or companies to make big moves in to more environmentally sustainable energy.  I believe that once inflation makes energy less affordable the appetite for green energy will increase.  This may be a while off depending on how fast the global economy can pick up the slack left behind from the last bubble.

Climb a plateau once its peaked…

So where is the catalyst for the next rally?  What could drive equities higher?  The only way we’re going to see a tremendous rally from here is if we see much more currency debasement and intentional inflation.  That kind of manipulation could continue to lead markets higher, but at the cost of the currency that equities are priced in therefore nullifying much of the gains.

Or fall right off?

I think the market is setting up to fall.  I’m not so sure we’ll retest the lows or not, but I do think we’ll see some more selling as fundamentals begin to play a center role in the stock market again.  On a technical note, we may be building a pretty significant head and shoulders pattern on the S&P 500.  Today’s action seems to confirm the right shoulder.  We could see a retest of 875 or lower if it continues to play out.

The stock market is poised for more weakness

Now that we’re off the 925 S&P 500 support area we see a rolling top forming on major indexes here and around the world.  A pullback in equities and commodities may occur as a result, providing opportunity to further short the market and gain more exposure to commodities during buying opportunities.

I believe the short term target could be as low as 900 on the S&P and interim if we see a large correction we could retest the 875 area.  The main determinant factors here will be the news flow, economic data and hunger for raw materials.

The correction could also remove the possibility of the 50 day moving average crossing above the 200 day moving average, which fund managers are looking for as further indication that the market is worth buying in to at these levels.

Bulls continue to cling on the notion of green shoots, but the green shoots look more like poison ivy according to many traders who are closely tuned in to the technicals and fundamentals.

Feeling frothy?

As the rally appears to be running on fumes at this point, I’d like to say that I was a little early saying to sell it before, but one never can trust a bear market rally.  That’s what it still seems like we’re dealing with, too.  The technicals were powerful during the 8 week surge, but we do not yet have a Dow theory buy signal (need a close above 9125) or a break above the 200 day moving average on the S&P 500.  Now the charts are beginning to look more exhausted as the overbought conditions are worked out.  Longer term the trend remains down as we seem to continue with the 10+ year double top formation playing out on the S&P 500.

Banks led the rally up and now they are beginning to give way as fundamentals point to a more pessimistic picture than the prior trading action of their equities might suggest.  While I do feel that the substantive cash injections, ZIRP cheap liquidity and stimulus have filled part of the vacuum left by the implosion of Lehman and the deleveraging process, there is simply too much enthusiasm around when this alleged recovery is due to transpire.

We are quite literally in the midst of a complete reinvention of how the world does business and in that process there likely will be further dislocations and market abberations before settling in to a U or L-shaped recovery — either economic destiny will be determined by the shape of fiscal policy and whether insolvent institutions are infact allowed to fail or continue indefinitely as “zombies”.  Unregulated derivatives markets must be brought in to the light and fully regulated in order to prevent credit default swaps and other leveraged contracts from contributing to widespread system disruptions.

This turning point has been marked by the downfall of the US as the financial capital of the world.  A slow unwinding process that in the decades to come will be much more apparent than it is now.  This is the unfortunate consequence of being the largest debt bearing nation in the world whose currency is quickly losing popularity as reserves for central bankers around the world.  The unraveling is going to degrade the quality of life for Americans and boost domestic inflation considerably.

If nothing can be done to restore confidence by regulating the shadow markets and unraveling the insolvent institutions, then this trying period shall last quite a while.  At this point I don’t feel the actions of the US government or the Federal Reserve have been constructive to that end.  That is why I feel the rally is largely unsustainable and right now we are in a frothy period where short positions in equities and long positions in foreign currencies may be appropriate to consider putting back on the table.

Disclosure: Short US equities, long foreign currencies